Coming up this weekend ... the Greenbelt Festival of Lights will be held at the Greenbelt Community Center. This is where I teach my pottery classes, and I will be sharing a large booth with my Level 5 Pottery students. The Level 5 class is for students who have moved beyond technical clay skills, and are developing their own style of work. These are all highly teachable students, and yet none of their work looks anything like mine! I love that. They know themselves, they know what their influences are. It is a real privilege for me to work with people like this. My own area of the display will be relatively small, because this booth is really about their talent and hard work. Come check it out! We will have high-quality functional wares, ornaments, jewelry, etc., in every price range. Here's a preview:
Greenbelt's Festival of Lights Art + Craft Fair
Saturday, December 7, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, December 8, 11am - 4pm
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770
(And for anyone who is looking for a large display of my work, my annual Open House is next weekend, December 14-15, in downtown Silver Spring. More details will be posted here next week, and sent by email to those of you on my mailing list.)
I am two or three blog posts behind on the things that I wanted to write about this fall. Things have been extremely busy and kind-of stressful, both good and bad. I will write about it all eventually, when I have time. I just finished the second of two shows this month, and I'm pretty tired. The good news is ... both of the shows were significantly better than I was expecting. The bad news is ... I'm even further behind on my inventory needs for my upcoming shows. I have three shows planned for next month. Yes, this might prove to be a bad idea. All things considered, I took some time out of the studio today to write, because my ass is dragging. And because my little cat is not feeling well, my work overload is bad for her too. If she falls asleep, I'll try to get a stack of plates made later this evening.
But despite everything else going on, really this month revolved around my annual Wood-firing Workshop, where I take a group of students from the Greenbelt Community Center up to Baltimore Clayworks to load and fire their wood-kiln. This is always a lot of work, but this year it was especially challenging due to the weather. It poured buckets of rain for two days straight. Here are some soggy scenes, starting with loading everyone's boxes into my van for the trip up to Clayworks:
In case you're wondering how we managed to load the kiln in the pouring rain, the shed roof over the kiln can protect some pots at a time, but most of the pots were unpacked inside the classroom building that is next to the kiln. We started by hand-carrying out a few pots, as many as could fit under the shed roof. Then, there was a constant shuttling of people and pots. As pots were moved into the kiln, more pots were brought outside. We hunched over them and walked as fast as we could. We got soaking wet, but managed to keep the pots dry. It all took about an hour longer than usual. (Photo by Janet Evander)
Here is our official group photo from the workshop, after we finished loading the kiln and bricking up the doors. From left to right: Karen Morgenstern, Karen Arrington, Tom Baker, Jonathan Gordy, Gina Denn, Amy Castner, Carol Wisdom, Janet Evander, me, Alan Dowdy, and our wood-fire guide and guru, Jim Dugan from Baltimore Clayworks. Not pictured are Karen Riedlinger, Quianna Douglas, and Kuniko Wallis. Photo by Kuniko Wallis, using Alan Dowdy's camera. Yes it was still raining and getting dark when we finished, Alan's camera has a low-light feature that took the best photo.
The next day as we fired the kiln, it rained off and on, sometimes heavily. We worked in shifts of four or five people at a time, so we were able to fit under the roof and stay dry. Here's a shot from the early morning hours near the end of the firing. It's a lovely scene, and yes it's still raining. (Photo by Alan Dowdy)
I've said before that Greenbelters are the best wood-firers I've ever had the privilege with which to fire. Once again, I was shown why. I know there were many situations here that were difficult. But nobody complained. Everybody kept up their good spirits and work ethic, and got it done. I hope that before too long we will all be laughing about "that time we wood-fired in the pouring rain." Thankfully, the weather cleared up in time to unload the kiln a few days later. Our perseverance was rewarded with beautiful pots:
Holy cow, Greenbelters are darn talented.
My years-long quest to make gray pots in a wood-kiln is finally starting to bear fruit. If you are familiar with my work, you know that warm gray and brown shades are the basis for everything I do. I've always gone nuts over the crusty gray pots that are the result of heavy salt glazing, but I want to find a process for gray pots that is more predictable, and suitable for functional pots. Most of my previous attempts resulted in blue pots (the horror!). The taller sake bottle in this photo really excites me. I made a white flashing slip, and added 1% of black mason stain 6600, and mixed it up thin. I used a coarse brush to apply it to this porcelain bottle, which resulted in all of my favorite shades of gray and brown. As you can see, I also used a lot of celadon glaze on porcelain, which I am thrilled about too. But the gray slip is the direction that I am dying to explore further.
Everyone's least favorite subject ... wet-pulled handles. Just mentioning them generates groans. I try to teach many approaches to handle making, but the wet-pulled handle cannot be avoided. It's really important, because it teaches you how to gracefully handle wet clay. This translates into good craft skills in all areas of pottery. I had my Level 4 students make wet-pulled handles for a teapot. We pulled the handles and set them across to cylinder to form a nice curve, then let them dry for about an hour while we worked on trimming and attaching a spout:
(photo by Jenny Adams)
When it comes to attaching a wet-pulled handle, I only have rule: DO NOT TOUCH THE OUTSIDE OF THE HANDLE. You can touch the ends of the handle, which will either become attachment points, or cut off as excess. You can touch the inside of the handle. But keep your paws off the outside. Those beautiful, liquidy, gravity-fed lines ... don't spoil them with your fingerprints.
From left to right ... Jonathan Gordy, Kara Duffy, me, Melanie Choe, Margaret Lukomska, Jenny Adams, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, Andrea Schewe, and Jeri Holloway.
We all noticed the hedgehog at the wood kiln
, before it went into the kiln. And when it emerged from the kiln, we knew it was something special. It has a little bit of black iron oxide on its nose, but otherwise all of its tones and shine were bestowed by the kiln. Last weekend at the Festival of Lights, we jokingly fought over it, trying to outbid each other for the right to buy it. Its maker, Karen Riedlinger, wasn't sure how to price it. It's such a little guy, after all. After some discussion, we chose a price that was higher than Karen was really comfortable with, but she agreed to try it and see what would happen. We placed it on a riser facing the entrance of the show, so it could act as our greeter.
When the show opened, we watched as people came into the room, made a beeline for the hedgehog, picked it up, and admired it. About a half-hour later, somebody bought it. "We should have charged more!" I said. But I was kidding, it had already fetched a very handsome price. And thus a legend was born. The cherished little hedgehog was given an important job, which it performed brilliantly for a very short period of time, and then it was gone.
btw, the booth looks spectacular, doesn't it? The quality gets better every year. When I gush about how talented my students are, I am not kidding!
"Level 5 Pottery" is the new name that was given to my most advanced class at the Greenbelt Community Center. This weekend, the Center is hosting its annual Festival of Lights
, where my students and I will have a large booth. Here's a preview of our work:
My large serving platter with painted bamboo design.
Karen Arrington's large oval platter with leaves.
Amy Castner's blue teapot with wire handle.
Janet Evander's wood-fired mugs and ornament.
Karen Morgenstern's faceted tea bowl, wood-fired.
Karen Riedlinger's "onion and garlic" salt and pepper shakers.
Vejune Svotelis's wood-fired jar with three-finger lid.
Kuniko Wallis's teapots, wood-fired.
Carol Wisdom's canister with slip-carved design.
I know you're impressed, because they impress me every week! And we'll have many more sure-to-knock-your-socks-off wares, in every price range. And if you're interested in taking the best pottery classes in the DC metro area, this weekend is a good chance to tour our studios/classrooms, and meet the instructors (most of whom are also in the Festival). Greenbelt's Festival of Lights
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770
Saturday, December 1, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, December 2, 11am - 4pm
One of the projects I recently gave to my Level 4 students was a serving bowl with a "one-curve" basin, a tall footring, and a flared and carved rim. That's a pretty complex assignment, but as usual, they attacked it and they crushed it! A week or so later, I came across all of these bowls in a tidy stack in the kiln room. My bowl was at the bottom of the stack, so I just decided to carry them all over to the classroom. What a pretty sight!
photo by Quianna Douglas
From left to right ... Jim Dugan from Baltimore Clayworks, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, Karen Riedlinger, me, Janet Evander, Karen Morgenstern, Alan Dowdy, Melanie Choe, Jonathan Gordy, Carol Wisdom, Amy Castner, Vejune Svotelis, Karen Arrington. Missing from the photo are Tom Baker, Quianna Douglas, and Kuniko Wallis.
Wood-firing has become an October tradition for the potters from the Greenbelt Community Center. It's the perfect time of year to schedule our workshop at Baltimore Clayworks
. The cooler weather makes us want to build a massive fire! Here are some photos from the event, which are generally sorted in chronological order. Click on the thumbnails for larger images and captions.
Oh, and then there were the pots! Here are just a few. There were many, many more that were just as gorgeous as these. Click on the thumbnails for larger images and names.
A "party" is how it was described by one of the first-timers, and that makes me really happy. You can tell by the photos above that there is an insane amount of work involved to successfully fire the kiln. Why did that feel like a party to us? There are two reasons why: 1) Baltimore Clayworks has a beautiful noborigama, and Jim Dugan provides a seemingly endless supply of expertise and guidance for students. 2) Greenbelters are awesome. Accomplishing all that work cooperatively with a large number of people is incredibly hard. And all of the challenging learning aspects of a wood-firing don't really happen if the people aren't sharing the work smoothly. I've learned this is not to be taken for granted, because in fact it takes an awful lot of character and intelligence to do this well. But it seems to come naturally for Greenbelters. "What's neat is that everyone seems to want everyone else's pots to be great," said another first-timer.
If you can't tell, I have so much respect for wood-firing. I love to introduce other potters to it, then watch the mind-blowing effect it has on first-timers, and the long-term growth and exploration that some will enjoy for years. Knowing these pyromaniacs makes my pottery life so much better. Hooray for pyromaniacs!
Thanks to those who contributed photographs for this blog post ... Karen Arrington, Amy Castner, Janet Evander, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, and Karen Morgenstern.
Last month, I arrived at my Friday night pottery class complaining of hand pain. I had spent that afternoon trimming pots that were a little too dry, and all the joints in my right hand ached from gripping my trimming tool so hard. I said that I wished OXO Good Grips would make trimming tools. The best idea I could muster for making my tool handles wider and softer was "ace bandages." But Alan Dowdy had a better idea.
"What's that?" I asked.
A few days later, I spent a whopping $3 in my neighborhood hardware store on a package of pipe insulation, which is basically a tube-shaped piece of foam. It's perfect. Some of my trimming tool handles fit snugly inside the tube without any fasteners. For tools that have skinnier or wider handles, I made lengthwise cuts in the foam to make the diameter smaller, or allow it to open wider, then fastened them on with rubber bands. I've been using these for over a month now, with no pain! I get excited when I think of all the wear-and-tear I just spared my hands from, over the next 20 years or so. That $3 bought me so much more foam than I needed, so I brought the rest into my Friday night class, and we all made our trimming tools more comfortable!
This past weekend I got to have a real treat ... a class in watercolor painting by renowned painter Jing-Jy Chen. She gave a class for me and several of my potter friends from the Greenbelt Community Center. Just watching Jing-Jy paint makes me feel more enlightened.
Here are the things that I painted: a crane, cherry blossoms, bamboo, and fish. I need a lot of practice. But also, I would love to adapt these techniques and styles for slip, glazes, and underglazes on some of my pottery work. Stay tuned!
Here is the group who attended. From left-right: me, Jing-Jy, Janet Evander, Judy Goldberg-Strassler, Karen Arrington, Lorraine DeSalvo, and Margaret Lukomska.
photo taken with Janet's camera-phone
While my intermediate students were trying to conjure up an early spring
, my advanced students were trying to conjure up brownies.
Back row l-r: Alan Dowdy, Karen Arrington, me. Front row l-r: Karen Riedlinger, me again, and Amy Castner.